BOSCOBEL - Recent Boscobel High School graduate, 18-year-old Chase Kovars, has a passion in life – old houses. Since the summer of 2017, the youth has been working to restore ‘Bonnie View,’ one of Boscobel’s oldest houses, built by the Matt Pittman family in 1868.
The home remained in the Pittman family until 1967, when the last family member to reside there, Josephine Pittman, passed away. Since then there have been several owners, and most recently the property was sold to Frank Kohoutek of California.
“My dream is to restore the house to its original condition and then turn it into a bed and breakfast business oriented to travellers with an interest in history,” Kovars said. “Of course, being a young person without a lot of resources, this is going to be difficult for me to achieve on my own.”
Kovars is working with Boscobel Librarian Robin Orlandi and getting the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of our country's historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. It was established as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is overseen by the National Park Service.
“Back east where I come from, a lot of little towns discovered that they could boost their economies by marketing their historical interest to travellers,” Orlandi said. “This dovetails nicely with a town’s interest in preserving the history of the town.”
Orlandi emphasized that the Boscobel Library History Club is committed to driving the narrative about Boscobel’s history as a companion economic development project to the focus on outdoor recreation.
“We have lots that is of historical interest in Boscobel,” Orlandi said. “The origins of the Gideon Bible, John and Jackie Kennedy’s visit, families such as the Pittmans and the Blaines, and Houdini’s visit are just a few examples.”
Orlandi says that the ‘historical tourism’ aspect will give visitors something to do when they are not paddling or hiking.
Career in restoration
Kovars is now a student at Southwest Technical College, studying building and carpentry.“I’d like to position myself for a career in restoring old houses,” Kovars said. “I am fascinated by the history of old houses, but I also want the skills to do the hands-on work of restoration.”
Kovars works closely on the project with Boscobel Library History Club member Virginia Eartham. The two have cleaned the house up and done various restoration projects. In recent years, they have decorated the house for the holidays and held an open house.
Perhaps their biggest public event in the house has been opening it on Halloween as a haunted house. They decided to do this when the group that had run a haunted house in Boscobel decided to quit and offered their decorations to Kovars.
“The haunted house event has been very popular, and last year we ran it for three nights, and had 500 people visit on Halloween,” Kovars said. “This year, we are thinking of charging an admission fee to help raise funds for restoration work on the house.”
Cleaning and building
Kovars first became involved with the property in the summer of 2017. At that time, the new owner Frank Kahoutek and his sister Patricia Kohoutek, came to Boscobel to take possession of their new property, and begin to clean out the mess in the house.
“The new owner talked with Chase’s mother, who told him of her son’s interest in old houses,” Boscobel Librarian Robin Orlandi remembered. “Frank Kohoutek told her to send him over, and it took off from there.”
Chase arrived on the scene just as a dumpster was delivered to the house by Town & Country Sanitation. He worked with Kohoutek and his sister Patricia to clear out debris and trash left in the house, and begin the process of cleaning. Kohoutek was only able to stay for two weeks, but Patricia stayed for almost two months.
“We focused on pitching the junk and keeping the stuff that looked like it was original from the house,” Kovars said. “It was a somewhat chaotic process, and at one point I remember having to go through the dumpster to find a missing part from one of the old sinks.”
In the course of the work, Kovars developed a rapport with the Kohouteks, and a little of his passion for the house seems to have rubbed off on them.
“I am always concerned when I hear rumors that the property is for sale.” Kovars said. “There was one point when it seemed the property would be sold and turned into duplexes, but I convinced the owner that that would be a bad idea for such a historic old house. Frank has come to value the property for its historic value, and he is not just going to sell it to just anybody.”
After the Kohoutek’s departure back to California, Virginia Eartham joined Kovars in his work. Eartham took on further cleaning of the house and research about the Pittman family. Kovars moved on to projects focused on restoring the critical infrastructure of the building.
“I learned to repair and caulk windows, and do all kinds of little repair jobs,” Kovars said. “Fortunately the roof was very new, but we had to have an electrician and a plumber come to do some needed repairs that summer.”
Recent work by Kovars and Eartham has involved painting, cleaning and restoring the woodwork. Because the house is not heated, there are problems developing with some of the hardwood floors on the first floor, and the two are exploring the possibility of hooking up electricity so the house could be heated in the winter and so they could run a dehumidifier.
History and furnishingsWhen Kovars and Eartham began decorating the house for a Christmas open house, the project of finding suitable, period appropriate furnishings for the house also began. Kovars has become a devotee of estate sales, and has been given or offered cheaply various furnishings that have begun to once again give people a feel for what it was like to live in the house when it was originally built.
“My favorite piece that I have gotten for the house is a big wooden sideboard with a marble top and a drawer that we’ve placed in the dining room,” Kovars said. “I was able to get an antique couch for $15 from Potosi, and I also went to the Waunakee garage sales where I got an antique bed frame, and filled up my car with other stuff.”
Kovars is always on the lookout for other items that he can use to continue to furnish the house. His historic research at the library, the Depot Museum, and online has yielded him a wealth of historical information about the Pittman family and the Bonnie View house. He particularly laments the records of the estate sale that was held after the last family member to live in the house, Josephine Pittman Huxley, passed away.
“All those items that were sold are exactly the things that we need to restore the house,” Kovars said. “But the list of items sold is useful to us because we know some of the types of things to be on the lookout for. Many of the items were actually sold to people from Boscobel, such as the antique clock which can be seen today in the bank.”
The house is located at 501 North Park Street in Boscobel. It is a two-story frame house, with a T-plan. The design is an amalgamation of a number of styles and periods, but the basic ‘Queen Anne’ plan closely resembles the WW. Fields house at 505 Park Street.
The first owner, Matt Pittman is thought to have arrived in Boscobel in 1866, having travelled from Eagle with Charles McWilliams, a practical pharmacist. Though their destination had been St. Paul, they were delayed in Boscobel by a washout from flooding on the Wisconsin River.
While waiting to continue their travels, the two decided to purchase a local drugstore business from William Dyer, which they operated together for decades. The building, which still stands today, currently houses the Timber Lane Coffee House.Eventually, Pittman decided to form a second bank in Boscobel, which would go on to become the State Bank of Boscobel. He was president of the bank from 1891 to 1905. Pittman was also a Mason of the 331-degree.
Halloween and ghosts
The Bonnie View house will once again be open for Halloween as a haunted house. This is intended as a fun option for the community but also as a fundraiser for Kovars restoration efforts. Look for more details about the haunted house in the coming weeks.
But, Kovars says that the house may be haunted in truth and not just on Halloween. The youth and his friends have had strange experiences in the house, particularly in the attic.
“One of the previous owners reported hearing footsteps going back and forth in the attic,” Kovars said. “Another day when I was there taking care of the cat that lives in the house, I heard a child laugh. And another day, when I wasn’t there, my friend also heard a child laugh, and heard whispers.”
Kovars speculates that it is possible that the ghost could be a child of the family that did not survive childhood, though he has not yet established such a fact through his research.
So, it is possible that the haunted house opened for Halloween may be haunted indeed.For those who are interested in learning more or donating funds, furnishings or items of historical interest, Chase Kovars can be found most afternoons at the Boscobel Library where he works.